Tactus Technology has an interesting new technology, Tactile Layer, that can create dynamic physical buttons that users can actually see and feel in advance of entering data into the device. When the physical keyboard is no longer needed, the buttons recede back into invisibility. Isn’t that cool? I can’t wait until it’s available on smartphones. I hate typing on a mobile device. Even though I have small fingers, I still have trouble typing on a smartphone. The letters are just too close together. While Tactile Layer won’t make a keyboard larger, I think the tactile buttons will make it easier to press the right letter.
The Tactile Layer panel replaces the glass or plastic layer that sits on top of the touch sensor and display on a touchscreen. As a result, the tactile panel does not increase the thickness of the touchscreen display. The technology enables manufacturers to create devices with entirely new ergonomics and form factors, since the screen and the keyboard can now be combined.
Micro-holes connect the top layers of the tactile panel to a series of micro-channels that run through the underlying substrate. The micro channels are filled with a fluid whose optical index of refraction matches that of the surrounding material, making it fully and evenly transparent when light from the display passes through. When pressed, pressure causes the fluid to push up through the holes and against the top polymer layer, making it expand in pre-defined locations.
A small internal controller that interfaces with the processor of the touchscreen device controls the rise and fall of the buttons. The controller allows a proximity sensor or a software application to control the state of the buttons. For example, the buttons could be triggered to rise whenever the software calls for the virtual QWERTY keyboard.